Michigan Labor Force Needs the Common Core

This is the first in a recurring series of posts from local PTA members discussing the Common Core Standards and how they impact states and local school districts. Today’s post comes to us from Joyce Heideman, a parent of a recent high school graduate and the owner of a small animal veterinary clinic in Lansing, Michigan. Joyce is a member of Michigan PTA.

I am not an educator, nor am I a policymaker, nor do I have a school age child at home anymore, but when the Michigan House subcommittee on education held hearings regarding the Common Core State Standards, I attended every single one. You see, I own a small business, and I have a 20 year old son that recently graduated high school, so I have a vested interest in education. There were 4 days of hearings and over 15 hours of testimony, for and against Common Core. Initially, I went as a proud, but not so informed, advocate for the standards. In the end, I emerged as a much more educated and stauncher supporter of the Standards.

As a small business owner, I have noticed an alarming trend in the high school graduates that I interview and employ. My business is a veterinary clinic, and I hire employees to answer phones, work with clients, care for the animals, and help me in the exam room. As a standard part of my interview process, I administer a short basic skills test. This is a 7 question test on relevant skills such as spelling and math. For example (and these are actually on the test); “How do you spell Dalmatian?” or “What is 10% of 50?” All seven of the questions are a similar caliber of question. Over the last 20 years that I have been administering this test, the trend has been that fewer and fewer applicants can pass this test. Now, I don’t mean pass with 100% correct, I mean correctly answer at least 4 out of 7 questions. In the last 3 years, less than 50% of applicants pass this test. That is down from 65% just 10 years ago, and from 90% 20 years ago. Remember, these are all high school graduates, and some of them even have had a year or 2 of college. I have the jobs available, but can’t find applicants with basic skills to fill them. Sure, I could (and have from necessity) hired individuals who couldn’t spell or do basic math. I could spend my time correcting their misspellings on medical records, instead of concentrating on my patients. I could have my other employees monitor all monetary transactions. But the question for me is: why should I have to do this with high school graduates?

During the hearings, I heard from several businessmen that told basically the same story. They have many jobs open in their businesses, but they can’t find the applicants in Michigan to fill them. It is disturbing that in a state with such a high unemployment rate so many vacant jobs go unfilled because the labor force lacks the necessary basic skills to perform them. Granted, some of the jobs available are knowledge-based and skilled jobs that require more than just a high school education. But, companies are willing to train them. They just have a hard time finding applicants that can read and comprehend the training texts.

A recent Business Leaders of Michigan survey showed that “54% of small and medium businesses and 56% of large businesses in Michigan found that applicants do not have the skills necessary to meet job requirements” (Pg. 11). If business owners are unable to find the workers in Michigan to fill these jobs, they must give them to somebody else, from someplace else! And, if they can’t attract skilled workers to Michigan (because, for example, employees want good schools for their children), then they may be forced to move these Michigan-based plants to another state, or even another country.

This is the “career ready” aspect of education standards, and it is really important to Michigan. We need to be graduating students that can move right into these jobs, or at least can read and understand informational texts to be trained “on the job.” The Common Core State Standards are rooted in this concept. They are designed to produce high school graduates that are career and college ready. The Common Core Standards set the bar higher by focusing on building a deeper understanding in Math and English Language Arts. To this foundation, they bring in more relevancies by shifting some of the focus to informational text. These are the texts that Michigan kids looking for a good paying career are going to need to be able to understand. The Common Core State Standards set the bar higher so that by reaching this bar, graduates are prepared for the higher expectations of career and college.

The Common Core State Standards are standards. They are not curriculum. They do not tell teachers what to teach. They do not tell districts what text or curriculum to use. They do lay out a clear, focused destination for where students should be by graduation. And, unlike three quarters of the current state standards that the Common Core will replace, the new standards are more rigorous and more career and college relevant.

If the state of Michigan adopts the Common Core standards and implements them judiciously and properly, businesses in Michigan will not need to look to other states for applicants that meet job requirements. Michigan graduates will be able to fill these jobs, or fill jobs in other states, or other countries, if they choose to. Michigan needs a workforce that can compete locally, nationally, and globally. The Common Core State Standards are the first step to making that happen.

Get Moving to Raise More Money for your School

FUYF_BlogResearch proves that active kids do better, which means that it is more important than ever for schools and communities to promote an active lifestyle and create healthy environments for students. The National PTA has come out in full support of promoting the benefits of physical activity for kids, including greater academic achievement, better classroom attention, and improved physical and mental health.

Schools can be the heart of health if they have the right wellness resources and funds in place. That’s why it makes sense to have a healthy, easy fundraising option for your school group that is centered around physical activity AND helps your school and community create a healthy environment.

Fire Up Your Feet is a healthy fundraising option that rewards parents and families that are already making a point of incorporating physical activity into their daily routine. For families that want to set a goal around getting more physical activity, the Fire Up Your Feet Healthy fundraising option offers the community a chance to cheer participants toward meeting their wellness goals, while contributing to a cause that can further reinforce overall community health and wellness efforts.

The free fundraising platform tools offers a game-changing approach to traditional fundraising, helping schools easily manage donations in a safe and secure online environment twith no upfront costs, saving you and other parent volunteers hours of time and not having to manually collect and manage pledges.

Best of all, 75% of the money raised back to each PTA or school group to support its wellness initiatives and benefits nationwide efforts to build communities that encourage active, healthy living, while the other 25% goes to support the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, whose mission is to advance policy and programs that improve access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes, and other safe places to be active in everyday life.

Healthy fundraising is the best way for kids and parents to do fun activities together, be healthy, and raise money to make a big difference for your own school. You can raise funds to support all kinds of resources for your school such as:

  • New bike racks so students can ride to school and store their bikes securely during the school day
  • New recess and gym equipment
  • A cafeteria salad bar so students have additional healthy food choices
  • Improvements to nearby street crossings and bicycle paths

Fun runs and walk-a-thons aren’t just valuable because they’re healthy – they’re also successful. So Fire Up Your Feet to help your school, PTA group, and family get moving and raise money to create an active, healthy school.

Margaux Mennesson is communications manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Fire Up Your Feet is a core program of the National Partnership.

Family Engagement and Hispanic Heritage Month

Yvette Sanchez-Fuentes is the Director of the Office of Head Start.

yvette-sanchez-fuentesHispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States.  We see this in our Head Start programs across the country where the number of Hispanic families with enrolled children has nearly doubled over the last three decades.  As a nation, one of the most important things we can do is to support and engage families in the early years to ensure children succeed in school and life. Families can and do play a significant role in their children’s academic success.  As parents, teachers, administrators and advocates we can strengthen family engagement in Hispanic communities by:

Learning about the rich diversity of Hispanic families in our communities.

It is important to understand that Hispanic families are a diverse group.  They include monolingual Spanish speakers, bilingual English and Spanish speakers, monolingual English speakers, and indigenous language speakers. Hispanic families may have recently arrived in the United States or they may be second, third or fourth generation Americans. Hispanic families come from many different countries in North, South and Central America, and like any ethnic group, they deserve early childhood programs and schools that genuinely understand and respect the deep cultural roots and values that underscore their daily lives and decisions.

Helping children identify and connect with their cultures and languages of origin.

Give children and families opportunities at school to share who they are and be proud of where they come from. Children need family stories to root them in their culture and give them a strong foundation upon which to build their futures. The sharing of language and culture in program and school settings teaches children to feel good about who they are, and helps their peers learn to value cultural differences. It also helps families feel welcome and a part of the program or school environment. Administrators can support these efforts by being intentional about language and cultural policies and practices in programs and schools.

Exploring families’ perceptions about what it means to be engaged in their children’s school.

Some Hispanic families might come from the perspective that teachers are the expert and families should not interfere out of respect. In Head Start we have a long history through our requirements and mission to value the expertise parents bring to the learning process since they know their children best. Encourage parent-teacher interactions that invite conversations about family perceptions. Welcome parents to share their thoughts, concerns and questions in order to build a trusting partnership.

Encouraging bilingualism to promote children’s academic success.

Teachers should talk with families about encouraging their children to continue using their home language as they are learning English in programs and schools. Parents should seek out programs and schools that support both English and the language they speak at home. The research is clear that learning more than one language provides children with enhanced cognitive functions, positive language and social development. Also, as children progress into adulthood there are workforce opportunities unique to bilingual individuals. To support lifelong family communication, parents should be encouraged to continue speaking their home language with their children regardless of whether there are opportunities for one or more languages at school.

Taking Advantage of these Related Resources.

The Importance of Home Language Series includes handouts for staff and families and provides basic information on the benefits of being bilingual. Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors is a structured curriculum on language stimulation, health, socio-emotional development, and parent engagement and advocacy for Latino parents.  Las Manos de Apá (The Hands of My Father) is a set of Head Start resources that focus on how to run groups and activities that engage Latino fathers around their children’s early learning.

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we can celebrate the Hispanic community by celebrating the role of families in children’s education. One Head Start parent put it best when he said, “it’s never too late to be involved in your child’s education. Like on the banner I read [at my child’s school] ‘School is my second home, and home is my first school’.


National PTA President Otha Thornton Invites Parents to Celebrate Healthy Habits Week Beginning Sept. 23

LYS_CelebrateHHBanner_180x150-b (2)An educational coalition with the NEA and LYSOL, including health messages from the CDC

It is with great pleasure that I ask parents to join us in launching the inaugural Healthy Habits Week on September 23 – a collaborative effort to reinforce the importance of practicing healthy habits, specifically among school-age children. The National PTA encourages you to bring the Healthy Habits Program to life by educating your children on good hygiene habits that bridge the gap between home and their time at school.

As another school year is in full swing, and we are all settling in our daily routine, , it is extremely important for our children to remain healthy and thriving inside and outside the classroom. Every year, the common cold results in an estimated 22 million lost days of school for students1.  Following the worst flu season in over a decade, it’s essential to stress the importance of good hygiene habits, such as hand washing, to help reduce student absences.

Want your family to join the movement? Click here to access Healthy Habits Program resources, including a downloadable Healthy Habits Program toolkit with lesson plans, tips for teaching good health and hygiene habits at home and a parent activity calendar for the year.

1 CDC, Adolescent and School Health. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/infectious/index.htm. Last accessed March 2013




Building Today’s PTA, One District at a Time

Membership recruitment in PTA has traditionally been individual based. We sign up individuals at Back To School Nights, bring in one parent here or there through backpack mail, or use our elevator speeches to recruit one family at a time. With this week’s Membership Monday we take a look at how Arizona PTA is going beyond individual membership recruitment and growing PTA, one district at a time.

“One of the goals is to make contact with every school district to introduce PTA and make administration aware of the support through our board, Region Directors, Councils and the PTAs in their district.” – Grace LaMoureaux, Arizona PTA President

Arizona PTA set out this membership year with a lofty goal of connecting with all of their school districts. Recently, their efforts to lay the groundwork in Tucson Unified School District, one of Arizona’s largest districts, paid off with the chartering of a new Council! The newly formed Tucson PTA Council was formed a few weeks ago and is already a shining example of how a Council can help local units, and all their children, to grow and thrive.

Mitzi Epstein, Arizona PTA Vice President says, “This really is a very big deal! — Not only chartering the Council but also creating dialogue with the Tucson Unified School District officials.”

Does your PTA have an elevator speech for school superintendents, district officials, school board members? Is there a continuous dialogue between the school district and PTA about the benefit that PTA brings to the community? What are your goals for connecting not just with parents but with school district leaders?

Arizona PTA has formed a relationship with TUSD that will allow them to continuously inform the administrators and parents in that district the relevance of PTA programs to their children’s success. We all know the value PTA can bring to a home and a school. Let’s be sure we are consistently sharing with key individuals the value that PTA brings to an entire school district.

Keep growing Today’s PTA, one member, one family, one district at a time.

PTA Comunitarios: A Fresh Twist on Family Engagement

AurelioMontemayor12In the heart of south Texas, PTA participation among Hispanic families is thriving thanks to a process that respects everyone’s opinion, and makes a point of seeking out parents who have been previously excluded or underserved.

PTA Comunitarios have been successful in gathering family leaders in Texas’ poorest communities. Developed by the Intercultrual Development Research Association, the comunitario approach is an innovation for parent organizations and also for school-family-community collaborations. Instead of being school-based, the roots are in ‘colonias’, unincorporated communities, in south Texas. Yet it is probably very close to the intentions and actions of the founders of PTA over a hundred years ago.

Community-based organizations sponsor and collaborate with schools to establish and maintain PTA Comunitarios. Collaboration includes co-planning, sharing in responsibilities for outreach and conducting ongoing activities to improve education in their neighborhood public schools. Connections are established with schools attended by the children of the members although the PTA Comunitario keeps an independent and separate identity.

Meetings and activities are conducted primarily in Spanish. Educational information is simplified and translated but not dumbed-down. Families are addressed as intelligent, capable and wanting the very best education for their children. The idea that parents don’t care about education is a myth. When families are treated with dignity and respect, they become the strongest long-term advocates for a quality public education for all children.

In PTA Comunitarios, family leadership in education takes the place of traditional parent volunteerism and fundraising. Family leaders in marginalized neighborhoods examine data on how their own children, and children across the region, are doing and partner with their schools to expand educational opportunity.

The organization follows the essential elements of establishing a formal PTA, and it elects officers who hold monthly membership meetings and pay the required dues. Leaders are elected from the participating families regardless of formal education, class or language capabilities. The barebones PTA structure provides a framework, but doesn’t discourage parents who may be hesitant to get involved in a full-fledge parent-teacher group.

Meetings include public school educational information and actionable data that leads to projects carried out by the membership. IDRA developed ‘OurSchool’ an online bilingual data portal, http://www.idra.org/ourschool/ that has served as a source for school transformation projects.

That first cohort of 35 families report that all of their children, mostly children learning English as a second language, who were in high school and scheduled to complete their studies, graduated and those of college age went on to higher education.

There are now 75 PTA Comunitario families working with leaders in one school district to monitor the academic success of their children and other neighborhood children. Based on this success, in late 2012, IDRA was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to expand development of the PTA Comunitario model in five communities in central and south Texas, through the i3 Initiative.

6 Key Characteristics of a PTA Comunitario:

  • Meetings are held in the language of the community participating.
  • Meetings are highly participatory and small group discussions are part of each session.
  • Projects and activities emerge from the actionable data presented.
  • Multiple opportunities for leadership are offered and many group tasks are taken on by English-learning individuals with limited formal education.
  • The PTA does not take on the needs and concerns of individual families but deals with issues and challenges that affect the whole community, the whole campus or that have significant impact on many students.
  • Intensive home-outreach and transportation networks are the life-blood of the group that help strengthen inter-family ties and also provide the support needed by families.

Aurelio M. Montemayor is a senior education associate for Intercultural Development Research Association. His career in education spans four decades and has included teaching at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. He currently serves on the National PTA Field Services Committee and served as a national PTA board member from 2006 – 2010.

Your Voice Can Save a Life


Our family in 2008, before we lost Mariah (middle row far right).

My daughter Mariah lost her life in one of the more than 100,000 texting-related car crashes that happen each year. As parents, we worry about our children from day-one. We take every precaution to try to protect them.  Never could I have imagined that three little words would take my daughter’s life. So today, as part of the It Can Wait® Drive 4 Pledges Day on Sept. 19, I ask that you and everyone you know take the pledge to never text and drive. Whether it’s through a tweet or phone call, tell 4 friends to take the pledge and together, we’ll make our roads safer. Take it from me, when it comes to texting and driving… It Can Wait.

At the age of 18, my daughter Mariah was an avid texter. She could hold entire face-to-face conversations while simultaneously texting with friends. The day before her high school graduation, Mariah was texting with a friend as she was driving to watch his Minor League baseball game. As she was sending him a text, she lost control of the car and clipped a bridge. The car flipped and skidded on its roof until it flipped back into oncoming traffic. She suffered massive head trauma and died eight days later. The last text message Mariah received was “Where U At.”

It’s been more than four years since Mariah’s death. No amount of words or tears can begin to express the pain and horror that I, as a parent, endured. To this day it still hurts. But in my grief, I found the will and determination to speak up and help spare other parents and their children from enduring a similar tragedy. In 2009, I joined the It Can Wait movement and AT&T to share my story and educate as many people as possible, with the hope of Mariah’s memory to live on in the lives saved. You can watch more about Mariah’s story in “The Last Text”.

Since joining the campaign, I have had the opportunity to speak at events all across the country. I enjoyed working with the National PTA and its members this summer at the 117th National PTA Convention and Exhibition in Cincinnati.  Addressing such a compassionate, committed group of people fills me with hope and shows me that we really can put an end to texting and driving.

The truth is nobody is immune to engaging in this dangerous behavior and the only way to put an end to texting while driving is to raise awareness about the risks and encourage everyone you know to stop.  The It Can Wait movement has served as a platform for my voice to be heard – and now it can be yours too. Together, we can make our roads safer from distracted drivers so no other parents or families experience such senseless tragedies. Speak up; your voice can save a life.


Welcome Back to Advocacy!


PTA members advocate at the U.S. Capitol during the 2013 Legislative Conference.

A new school year has begun! By now, most of you have settled your students into their new classrooms, bought new school supplies, and established a new daily routine. As your PTA gears up for the school year, consider adding another new item to your list: advocacy.

The dictionary definition of advocacy is that it is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” While this seems a simple enough definition, it can sometimes be difficult to understand what this means in practice. The word “advocacy” can even be scary for some!  But advocacy is just another word for “support,” “promote,” and “encourage.” Simply by being a member of your local PTA unit, YOU are already a child advocate! For the purposes of PTA, advocacy is when a parent, grandparent, educator, community member or other individual—in other words, you!—speaks up for children. You can do this in schools, in communities, to government bodies and to other organizations that make decisions affecting children. Because you belong to the PTA, you are able to join with fellow members to accomplish this with a single, strong voice.

Take a moment in the next few weeks to consider what your local PTA unit’s advocacy goals are for the 2013-2014 school year. What are some issues affecting students and families in your district that your PTA can “speak up” for? Perhaps you want healthier food in your students’ cafeteria, more family and community events, or safer routes to school that encourage walking and biking. Or, maybe your PTA wants to work with your state PTA to let your state and national leaders know your thoughts on school funding, to support National PTA’s public policy agenda on ESEA-NCLB reauthorization, or encourage members of Congress to support the recently introduced Family Engagement in Education Act.

Once you have identified those issues most important to your PTA, you can begin organizing your PTA unit to effectively advocate for them. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Be realistic. Make sure the tasks you are undertaking are within the abilities of your PTA. Identify issues that are small enough in scope that the local PTA unit can address them in a reasonable manner, but will have a noticeable impact on families and students in your school or district. If you find that the topics are outside the scope of what is possible, re-think your goals to bring them into a more realistic sphere, while also finding ways to grow your unit’s capacity to make the larger objectives possible.
  • Have a plan. Create step-by-step events and objectives that can be completed one at a time. Trying to take on too much at once can be frustrating and cause you to lose sight of the end goal. Also be sure to celebrate the completion of these steps, no matter how large or small a victory it is!
  • Communicate your goals. PTA seeks to engage families in education. But oftentimes, families do not know how to get involved. Make sure you are communicating your initiatives through various mediums (social media, local newspaper, newsletters, etc) so people in your school’s district know how they can get involved.
  • Work with local, state, and national leaders. Reach out to the administration in your school district, your city council, state legislators, and even members of Congress. Do some research on these individuals to find out what topics are important to them, so that you can approach the right people to support your cause. If you need help figuring out who your leaders are, you can go to PTA’s Takes Action site to search by your zip code and find out.
  • Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither can all solutions be arrived at instantaneously. Give yourself and your PTA volunteers enough time to get organized and complete the objectives in a workable timeframe.

National PTA has put together many resources for you to get started on organizing your local unit to meet its advocacy goals. You can check out our advocacy page for materials on various topics, including special education, sequestration, and the Common Core State Standards. The page also provides a link to National PTA’s public policy agenda, which may be helpful to your unit as you seek opportunities to promote the PTA cause. Our Advocacy Toolkit offers tips on how to interact with the media and your legislative leaders, in both web and PDF form. The toolkit also includes an outline of the Federal budget process and short videos detailing the history of PTA as an advocacy organization and how to effectively make your voice heard with your leaders. You can also check out our advocacy training guide, which provides detailed steps on topics such as coalition building, recruiting volunteers, and building an effective advocacy campaign. Finally, you can always contact National PTA staff by phone or e-mail for help.

Your PTA unit can also help National PTA’s child advocacy efforts by signing up to receive action alerts from our Takes Action network. These alerts will keep you informed when Congress is acting on issues important to students and families, and will give you the opportunity to make your voice heard with your legislative leaders. For even more opportunities to receive information from National PTA, follow us on Twitter (@NationalPTA) and like us on Facebook.

The new school year is a great time for your PTA to consider what opportunities exist in your school district for improving the lives of all children. As your students head back to school, take some time to figure out how you can advocate for every child with one voice.

Erica Lue is an Advocacy Coordinator for the National PTA in Alexandria, VA.  Contact Erica at elue@pta.org.

What Walk to School Day Can Do For You


What if you could do something that helps students arrive at school ready to learn? And helps strengthen connections between families and the school? And helps children get some of the physical activity they need every day while fostering skills they’ll use for a lifetime?

What if that something was as simple as walking to school?

Yes, walking to school provides all of those benefits. And Walk to School Day is a great way to begin a walking program at your school. Of course, many of you know that already.  After all, PTA leaders are prolific Walk to School Day event organizers!

This year’s official event date is Wednesday, October 9.

If you are already planning a Walk to School Day event at your school – Great! Please make sure your event is registered at the official Walk to School Day website, www.walkbiketoschool.org. It’s quick and easy!

For those of you who want to know more, Walk to School Day is a one-day event that is a part of an international effort throughout the month of October to celebrate the many benefits of walking and bicycling to school. While the main event is October 9, schools may celebrate any day in October that fits their schedules. Walk to School events can be as simple as a few kids and parents meeting to walk to school or very elaborate celebrations.

Last year, more than 4,200 schools in the U.S. registered Walk to School Day events at www.walkbiketoschool.org. By registering your school’s event, you’re joining thousands of other schools across the country and around the world.

Schools that register get access to resources like sticker, badge and certificate templates. They let others interested in walking to school know what’s happening nearby. They provide an opportunity for media outlets to find and publicize their event. And they get counted in the National Walk to School Day event tally.

Still need a little more info? Walkbiketoschool.org has lots of resources to help you get started.

You can also see who’s walking near you this year and reach out to them, share ideas or find ways to work together. Most events get registered in September, so it may also be helpful for you to see who participated last year.

Do you have any questions? Email us at walk@walkbiketoschool.org. We want to hear from you!

Lauren Marchetti is the Director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School.


‘If it’s thorny for me, what’s a PTA to do?’

Cultivating Hispanics takes lots of compassion and even more respect

AurelioMontemayor12The common umbrella term ‘Hispanic’ poses monsoon challenges. Imagine the term ‘English-speaking’ to cover the Belfast Irish, Montreal Canadians, Outback Australians and Lubbock Texans…for starters. When you scan the ‘Hispanic’ map, you will encounter an equally complex and dramatically varied landscape, including the Iberian Peninsula, northern Africa and the American continent.

I was reared on the Texas/Mexico border and am currently immersed in south Texas families and culture. I’m Chicano or Mexican American. My milieu also includes Mexicanos or Mexicans who just crossed over or who came with their parents over 30 years ago. Whether we’ve been here for five generations or yesterday, my spectrum includes socio-cultural and linguistic groupings it would take a sizable book to catalog.  I must be sensitive to many issues to be culturally competent in my south Texas backyard.

Competence challenge for me: As a ‘pocho’ (someone who should, but doesn’t, use ‘correct’ Spanish without mispronunciations, Anglicism’s or other indicia of acculturation to an English-dominant world) I’m challenged with the use of ‘correct’ or ‘acceptable’ Spanish. In my organization, we model the use of the language of the community: Spanish in many south Texas neighborhoods. At a recent state conference, a mother mentioned her discontent with the quality of the Spanish of her child’s bilingual class teacher. As an advocate for bilingual education, I also know that many Chicano bilingual teachers have courageously reclaimed their home language after suffering a school system’s attempts to erase it and replace it with English. So, I support a mother’s desire for an excellent bilingual education that models both languages but must also be compassionate for the “not-so-fluent-in-Spanish” teacher who wants the same thing. Wow! If it’s thorny for me, what’s a PTA to do?

Like schools, PTAs always have messages and information they want to give to families. Before attempting to sign up a Spanish-speaking family to PTA, consider the following:

  • Engage in two-way conversations: Value, nurture and support those of us who are the bridge builders and can navigate several cultural and linguistic contexts. Using professional translators and earphones only assists in giving messages to families in one direction without engagement and mutual understanding.
  • Show real concern for Hispanic children: Don’t be afraid to ask — What are your dreams, visions and hopes for your children? Why is education important? What do you expect from your children’s schools and are they measuring up to your expectations? And most importantly, PTA leaders have to listen deeply and compassionately, and not condescendingly.

I guess in the end, it’s all about respect. If you respect me, over time you will get to know my values, familial customs, and tastes in food, music and entertainment. You’ll see when and how I celebrate.  Nevertheless, your competence with me comes from your understanding that I want my children and all the other children from my neighborhood to get the best education possible. That’s more than enough even if we never break bread together.

Aurelio M. Montemayor is a senior education associate for Intercultural Development Research Association. His career in education spans four decades and has included teaching at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. He currently serves on the National PTA Field Services Committee and served as a national PTA board member from 2006 – 2010.